Owego Village Board maintains officer numbers

By Julianne Peixoto

August 4, 2014 Updated Aug 4, 2014 at 11:53 PM EDT

Owego, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The two open police officer positions at the Owego Police Department will stay vacant after the village board failed to come to an agreement about filling them during a vote Monday night.

The final vote was 3-3, with board member Michael Phelps abstaining.

The union governing police officers in the village has already filed a grievance against the board, and members said Monday they are prepared to pursue the case in court for as long as it takes.

A member of the New York State Union of Police Associations, Marilyn Berson, said if the village cuts officer hours further due to the two vacant positions, the next step would be to go to arbitration.

"My fear is that this is the first step towards, let's start reducing our police officers next year we'll cut another one, someone will leave we won't fill that position, and we'll slowly be at the point or quickly at the point where the next step will be to get rid of the police department," said Berson.

However, board member Earl Hartman was one of the dissenting votes, and said he's not in favor of cutting the entire police department, but rather he wants to see a plan for how the force will be sustainable in the future.

"I disagree with the argument we can put money in this year and we'll worry about it next year," said Hartman. "That's exactly what gets us into this endless loop where every year or every two years we're saying, 'Well do we need a police force?'"

Tioga County Sheriff Gary Howard said his department would be able to pick up the slack in policing sine the entire village of Owego is only two square miles.

But even he admitted he would need more people -- and more money -- to do the "right" job.

"Owego's in Tioga County, and if it needs to be policed because they don't have police officers, then I'll police them," said Howard.

Phelps not only abstained from the vote, he also submitted a letter of resignation for his position as police commissioner.

He said he believed holding the position was a conflict of interest.

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